Graduate Certificate Programs in Bioinformatics – Campus and Online Programs
Updated: October 15, 2022
Bioinformatics is defined as the use of computer technologies to gather, organize, and analyze biological data to arrive at insights in human health and genomics, ecology and sustainability, food production and agriculture, molecular biology, and more. It is a versatile and powerful field of study, and students who gain training in bioinformatics can work in a variety of organizations, ranging from medical research institutions to pharmaceutical companies and government agencies. Bioinformatics has been instrumental to advancements in gene expression and disease predictions, drug design and development, and the understanding of evolutionary biology as it relates to human development, as well as animals and the environment.
Scientists who work with bioinformatics are commonly referred to as bioinformaticians, and in general, their role involves developing algorithms, methodologies, and computing technologies/software to help other scientists, as well as medical professionals and researchers, to organize and search through large sets of genetic data to find correlations. Graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics train students to combine knowledge of biological principles and processes with computer science, programming, and statistical analysis in order to identify trends and anomalies in biological data sets.
Bioinformatics harnesses the power of computer technologies to amass, organize, and analyze large sets of data–such as genetic information and DNA sequences–in order to gain insight into and advance the fields of molecular and cellular biology; human genetics, disease, and medicine; and ecology and the environmental sciences. The origins of bioinformatics can be traced back to the Human Genome Project, which generated the first complete DNA sequence of the human genome, as well as full gene sequences for several non-human organisms, such E. coli, the fruit fly, the mouse, and the nematode, to help illuminate characteristics of the human genome and inform the treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of human disease.
With the full sequencing of the human genome, and further advancements in computing technologies, scientists can use bioinformatics to search gene sequences for similarities and differences in DNA between humans and other organisms, in order to identify genes that are common across many different types of life (i.e. conserved genes), as well as differences and similarities between the gene sequences in humans to determine whether genetic differences correlate with disease risk.
Identifying and Classifying Bioinformatics Graduate Certificate Programs
Graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics are typically offered through schools and departments of biological sciences at accredited institutions of higher education; however, they might also be jointly offered through the schools or departments of biological sciences and computer science departments at such institutions. Bioinformatics not only merges the biological sciences and computer programming, but also incorporates mathematical modeling, statistics, human health, and medicine. As a result, the titles for graduate certificate programs in this space can vary, and may include:
- Graduate Certificate Program in Biomedical Informatics
- Graduate Certificate Program in Computational Biology
- Graduate Certificate Program in Medical Informatics
- Graduate Certificate Program in Computational Life Sciences
- Graduate Certificate Program in Health and Medical Data Science
- Graduate Certificate Program in Biotechnology and Health Informatics
Typically, the courses that comprise a particular school’s graduate certificate program in bioinformatics overlap with the curriculum for this school’s master’s degrees and/or doctoral degrees in bioinformatics, biocomputational sciences, computational biology, biotechnology, or a related field. Depending on the program and school policies, the credits that students earn through their graduate certificate program in bioinformatics may be transferable to a formal master’s degree at the same or a different institution.
Graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics generally require students to have a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in the biological sciences, or a related area. If students do not hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a qualifying field, they might be admitted on the condition that they have completed or will complete substantial prerequisite coursework in molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, environmental or agricultural science, and/or the human biology. There are also a limited number of post-master’s graduate certificate programs that require a master’s or doctoral degree for admission.
Bioinformatics Graduate Certificate Coursework
As bioinformatics is a broad and interdisciplinary field, the curriculum structure and content for graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics vary, depending on the institution providing the certificate program, students’ chosen area of specialization, and whether the program consists of a set course sequence or a mix of required courses and electives. However, in general, students can expect to complete 12-15 course credits, or four to five graduate-level courses, covering topics such as statistical genomics, machine learning, computer programming languages, computational biology, computational genomics, and population genetics.
Examples of courses that a bioinformatics graduate certificate program might offer include but are not limited to:
- Bioinformatics Fundamentals
- Population Genomics
- Programming for Bioinformatics
- Statistical Methods for Bioinformatics
- Machine Learning in Bioinformatics
- Relational Databases
- Plant Epigenetics
Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Bioinformatics
As bioinformatics has expanded, so have graduate certificate programs in the field. These programs are designed to help working professionals in the biological sciences and medicine to supplement their skill set with knowledge of human genetics and methodologies for investigating the human genome using computer science. Due to the increasing demand for programs that students can complete even as they continue to work, there has been an increase in online graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics offered through accredited institutions of higher education.
Online graduate certificate programs are both a convenient and a time-efficient academic pathway for students, enabling them to work full-time or part-time as they complete their studies. In addition, online certificate programs in bioinformatics may be the only option for students who live far away from university campuses to enroll in a program without having to relocate.
Online graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics employ learning management systems, or LMSs, in order to deliver course content to students and to facilitate communications between students and faculty. In general, students log into their LMS to complete and submit course assignments, attend lectures, engage in discussions, and sit for virtual examinations. Online bioinformatics graduate certificate programs generally use synchronous and/or asynchronous instruction.
Synchronous instruction closely emulates in-person instruction but in a virtual setting, as it is comprised of course elements such as live video lectures, real-time breakout discussion groups, and examinations that require all students to log in at a specific time to complete. Synchronous instruction can be useful for students who benefit from in-person instruction and collaboration, but who want the convenience of online education. Asynchronous instruction is defined as all program components that do not require students to log onto their LMS at a specific time; this includes pre-recorded lectures, assignments that students complete on their own time (as long as they abide by assignment deadlines), and discussion forums that students can participate when they are available. Asynchronous instruction is beneficial for independent learners who want to maximize the flexibility of their graduate certificate program.
Many online graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics can be completed 100% remotely, with no visits to campus. However, some programs may require students to attend one or more campus visits—for example, for students to work at labs with specific computer technologies or to attend a bioinformatics programming workshop/intensive. GraduateCertificates.com defines an online graduate certificate program as one that requires no more than three campus visits annually. Programs that use mainly online instruction, but which require four or more campus visits per year, are classified as hybrid programs. Hybrid programs may be suitable for students who want the flexibility of online education but who also live relatively close to the campus offering their desired program.
Examples of Online Graduate Certificate Programs in Bioinformatics
The online graduate certificate programs in bioinformatics described below are all offered at accredited institutions of higher education. This list is meant to serve as an example, and is not representative of all graduate certificate programs in the field.
University of Delaware offers an online Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics (BINF-CERT) through its Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB). This program features two concentration options–one in the Computational Sciences and one in the Life Sciences. Consisting of 15 credits, or five courses, this graduate certificate include course options in systems biology, computational systems biology, databases for bioinformatics, biostatistics, database systems, regression analyses, plant genes and genomes, biochemical genetics, molecular and cellular biology, and programming for bioinformatics.
In addition to the BINF-CERT, the University of Delaware also offers a 12-credit online Graduate Certificate in Applied Bioinformatics and a 15-credit online Graduate Certificate in Biomedical Informatics and Data Science. All three graduate certificate program options have course credits that can be applied towards the university’s Master’s and PhD programs in bioinformatics and data science. For more information on these program options, visit the University of Delaware at bioinformatics.udel.edu.
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater offers an online Graduate Certificate in Applied Bioinformatics that consists of coursework that is also featured in the University’s M.S. in Applied Biotechnology. This program consists of 12 credits, or four courses, that cover Python for bioinformatics, bioinformatics applications, experimental design and analysis, and bioinformatic inquiry. Students receive training in organizing, searching within, and analyzing large data sets; designing experiments to identify protein and gene sequences of interest; and evaluating and presenting their findings in various contexts. This program is 100% online and uses asynchronous instruction, and is the result of a collaboration between several University of Wisconsin (UW) campuses, including not only UW-Whitewater, but also UW-Green Bay, UW-Madison, UW-Platteville, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, and UW-Stevens Point. For more information about this program, visit the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater at www.uww.edu.
Northeastern University offers an online Graduate Certificate in Bioinformatics through its College of Science. This program, which is offered fully online and has full-time and part-time options, provides students with interdisciplinary training in computer science, data analytics, and biology, empowering students to interpret large databases of genetic, medical, and proteomic data. Students take 12 course credits, broke down into three core courses that cover bioinformatics programming and computational methods, followed by one elective that they can choose from a broad range of courses in computer science and the biomedical sciences. Examples of topics that electives cover include biomedical imaging, medical physiology, cellular engineering, comparative neurobiology, the cellular and molecular biology of aging, immunotherapy, biotechnology enterprises, computer systems, and network science. For more information about this program, visit Northeastern University at www.northeastern.edu.